Georgia looked like it could be one-and-done in the National Invitation Tournament Wednesday night when Vermont rallied to grab a nine-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play.
The Bulldogs were playing poorly enough in stretches to lose, but guard Charles Mann made sure they didn’t as Georgia came back to grab a 63-56 victory in Stegeman Colsieum.
Mann scored 25 of his career-high 29 points in the second half and spearheaded a 14-2 run to end the game for the Bulldogs, who won despite committing a season-high 22 turnovers.
“The bus had to run over us before we decided to get back to who we really were all year,” coach Mark Fox said.
The No. 2 seeded Bulldogs advanced in the 32-team tournament to play No. 3 seed Louisiana Tech Saturday in Athens at 11 a.m. Louisiana Tech (28-7) edged Iona 89-88 Wednesday night.
Mann, 6-foot-5 sophomore, had just four points and five of his career-high tying seven turnovers at halftime, but Georgia still led by 11 early in the second half.
“During halftime my teammates (told me) just keep my head up and just keep on playing,” Mann said. “‘Just let the first half go, it’s the start of a new half, a new beginning’ and just play my game. It was a team effort and the crowd did a wonderful job in helping us pick up this win.”
The announced attendance was 3,951 but it sounded like more with general admission seating and students getting in the game free.
“They lifted us up when we needed them and that was a real difference in the game,” Fox said. “The energy in the building was just terrific.”
The fans saw Georgia (20-13) clinch just its second 20-win men’s basketball season in the last 12 years. The other was 21-12 in 2010-11.
It was a ragged, sloppy game in the first half.
At one stretch there were four straight air balls shot, three from Georgia.
The Bulldogs actually shot well (55.6 percent in the first half and 50 percent for the game), but couldn’t get many shots off with their slippery ball handling.
Georgia had a whopping 13 turnovers in the first half alone.
That was more than the Bulldogs had in 16 games this season.
“We came out somewhat flat,” said forward Marcus Thornton said. “We were just lazy with the ball. …Eventually we got it settled down, but that’s something we’ve got to cut down on.”
Seventh-seeded Vermont (22-11) wasn’t much better with 11 turnovers in the first half. The Catamounts hit only 8 of 24 shots in the first half and had two shot clock violations.
Vermont used a 21-2 second half run to pull in front and then led 54-49 with 4:47 to go and had the Bulldogs, who went more than eight minutes without a field goal in one stretch, on the ropes but did not make another shot from the field.
Mann, who played on the wing in a lineup with J.J. Frazier and Kenny Gaines, gave Georgia the lead with 2:25 to go on a drive off the glass and completed a three-point play. Thornton (career-high 16 points) then muscled in for an inside score and completed his own three-point play for a 59-54 lead with 1:34 to go and Mann added two free throws.
Mann made 8 of 11 shots and was 12 of 13 from the foul line.
“I just wanted to make some plays to try to bring us back,” Mann said. “If it was the extra pass, if it was to attack the rim. My teammates just helped me by spreading the floor out and I was able to attack. I just wanted to be more aggressive.”
America East regular season champs Vermont fell to 0-11 all-time against the SEC.
The Catamounts got 11 points from guard Sandro Carissimo and 10 from guard Candon Rusin. Vermont shot 63.6 percent in the second half, but was just 6 of 15 from the foul line for the game.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, made 24 of 26 from the line for a season-best 92.3 percent. Thornton made all eight of his free throw attempts.
“We were able to get to the line and finish,” Fox said.
And thanks to that and Mann’s big night, the Bulldogs season isn’t finished quite yet.
Notes: The winner of the Georgia-Louisiana Tech game will play the winner of Georgetown-Florida State in the third round. … Fox on the 11 a.m. tip Saturday: “We’re going to have to wake up,” he said. And he said in a comment directed to fans: “If you come to the game at 11 o’clock on Saturday, you’ve got the whole rest of the day, the afternoon. You can go play golf after the game.” … Georgia now has 628 made free throws this season, setting a school record.